First Thanksgiving

Perhaps the adversity of the last nine months has caused me to reflect more often on the goodness that’s hiding all around me even in the face of ugly politics, health and wellness tribulations, and a teetering economy.  There’s just no avoiding it; 2020 has been a year that’s triggered too many negative emotions.  Hardest for me was the loss in August of my younger brother to the pandemic. But I’m resolved that anger is a destructive emotion, so I’ve let it go.  And I’m thankful for getting to that point.  I’m grateful that the rest of my family is intact and now likely to get to the finish line of this scourge; discouraged that science doubters have worsened the pandemic, but very thankful for the science that is bringing vaccines and therapeutics at incredible speed.  And for the many previously invisible and unappreciated persons on the frontline, I’m incredibly grateful: docs, nurses, teachers, police and firefighters, custodians, postal workers, trash collectors, cashiers, essential workers – such a long list –  that have helped us to heal and kept the economy afloat.  I’m so appreciative of the spirit of cooperation among my team members at GBMP and to our customers who have forged ahead, finding new ways to work; in some cases totally pivoting their businesses to help fight the pandemic.   And for the original frontline, our military men and women, thank you for keeping our country secure.  I’m thankful for these many demonstrations of decency and selflessness.  

It’s odd that only one day of the year should be dedicated to being thankful.  And even that day has become the object of dispute and division: a symbol of the Manifest Destiny that was to follow over the next several centuries.  Perhaps the story of a beleaguered congregation of religious outcasts landing on a foreign shore, rescued and nurtured by native Americans is just a myth.  As the story was told, when I was a kid, the man most often heralded for saving this haggard group of immigrants, Chief Squanto, was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe. Squanto himself had been previously captured by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition.  Along the way, he learned to speak fluent English, a fateful blessing for the Mayflower travelers.  On his return home, Squanto discovered that his entire tribe had succumbed to smallpox, a plague rained upon them by European settlers.  Plenty of reason for anger, yet it was Squanto’s empathy and his English skills fortuitously acquired as a slave that created the possibility of a first Thanksgiving.  Sometimes the humanity of a single person can change the trajectory of history.

Maybe it was just a myth, or maybe it’s up to each of us to make it real.  Since last August, a song has been buzzing through my head, summing up my feelings.  I’d like to share for this Thanksgiving.  Give a listen to the lyrics.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and remember – only love can conquer hate.


BTW – Friday is Native American Heritage Day  🙂

Register Today. Learn about Lean & Digital Transformation Tomorrow.

With less than a day before our 16th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference, here’s a tally of attendees and what’s in store.

As of last night there were more than 200 registrations from 23 states and four countries. Eighty different organizations are participating, thirty of them are sending teams.   Here’s a rough demographic breakdown of attendees so far. 

Because we’re virtual this year, there are more opportunities to connect with a broad range of industries, from metal working to pharma and healthcare to aerospace and government.  And with everyone, from the frontline to the corner office. 

In addition to three exciting keynotes, you can actively participate in ten breakouts from Lean and IoT practitioners.  And, whatever you are not able to catch first time around will be available to you for 12 months.

Join in the lunch lobby chat and at the Community of Lean Lounge each day.  Or meet up face to face at end of day one at “Lean Before Dark” to share ideas, catch up with old friends and make some new contacts.

Treat yourself.  Only $345 for two days of thought-provoking engagement.  You can register here, and also receive a one- month free subscription to LEANFLIX. 

Hope to see you


IoT, Industry 4.0 & 21st Century Lean

Just two days to go before our 16th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference, an opportunity for all of us to put aside the tactical realities of Covid-19 and think more strategically about the future of society.  Our theme this year, 21st Century Lean, deals with the humanistic application of technology, in particular information technology, in the coming decades.  Concepts like the Internet of Things (IoT, coined in 1999) and Industry 4.0 (first referenced in 2011) are rapidly moving to center stage.  The goals of each are laudable:

  • IoT is the network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and perhaps even humans -embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity- that enable these to collect and exchange data.  This capability could support a worldwide Utopia of sharing, innovation and best use of scarce resources; but it could also support a dystopic world such as that painted in George Orwell’s 1984.  When Orwell’s book was published in 1949, IoT was entirely science fiction.  Today it’s approaching science fact, making the questions he raised 70 years ago urgent.
  • Industry 4.0 is more narrowly defined as a network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity- that enable these objects to collect and exchange data. The expressed goal here is to accommodate an anticipated shortage of human workers in the coming decades. Population studies suggest rapid population growth for the remainder of this century to perhaps 10 billion people, but thereafter a sharp decline.  And in some more industrialized countries, a shortage of labor already exists.  As with IoT, the impact of Industry 4.0 may be viewed as yet another advancement in productivity and quality; and like IoT, it’s knocking on our doorsteps.  It’s no longer science fiction as noted in a 1964 episode of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.  Here is a link to a 90 second clip, from “The Brain Center at Whipple’s,” but for those of you with Netflix, I recommend the full 30-minute version. 

So where does Lean fit into these strategies?  Must we adapt some of the thinking to new technology?  A client of mine, for example, once asked “If Mr. Shingo were alive today, with all of the automation we have, would he have invented mistake-proofing?”   Or are the principles and concepts of Lean more important than ever before to help us reign in our impulses; to aim for, as my teacher, Hajime Oba once said “what we should do, not what we can do.”   In 2003, speaking at SME’s Eastec Exhibit in Springfield, Mass, Mr. Oba was asked, “Why do American manufacturers get so little benefit from TPS?”  Mr. Oba responded without hesitation, “First, management does not understand TPS and second they are focused only on quarterly earnings.”   Did Mr. Oba have Mr. Whipple in mind?

Here is my 10th and final Lean Peeve before the conference: short-term thinking.  It’s not too late to invest in a little strategic thinking about this critical and now urgent idea of harmonizing the best of Lean Transformation and Digital Transformation.  Take a couple days to stop worrying about what’s going to happen the next month. Give yourself a break, and join our discussion about where our world is headed for next century.  Hope to see you at the conference.


Trivia Break

I woke up this morning to some very unsettling news, or should I say yet another crescendo in seven months of unsettling news.  Wishing the President and everyone in his sphere affected by this latest chapter of Covid-19 a speedy recovery, I’ll take the easy way out today with a short list of Trivia covering Lean and IoT for you to ponder over the weekend.  How many of these questions can you answer without using the Internet?

  • Who is the creator of the X-Type Matrix for Policy Deployment? 
  • Who did Shigeo Shingo pay homage to as “his teacher’s teachers”?
  • What is the literal translation of Poka-Yoke? 
  • When was The Machine That Changed The World published?
  • What is the difference between Internet of Things and Industry 4.0?
  • Who coined the term “knowledge worker”?
  • When was Toast Kaizen first videoed? 
  • Who said “If this Lean stuff seems easy, you’re probably not doing it.” ?
  • When was the World Wide Web invented?
  • When was the first toaster connected to the Internet?  

Have a relaxing weekend, puzzling over this trivia – think of it as preparation for next week’s big event.  Just four days to the 16th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference.  I’ll be back on Monday with another Lean Peeve. 

Stay safe,


By the way: On the afternoon of the first day of our conference we’ll also take a break from serious inquiry for some “Lean Before Dark” fun that may include more Trivia with a few prizes and possibly some asynchronous Karaoke.  Hope you can join in for the learning and for the fun.  Hope to see you. 

Standard Units

“What’s measured improves.” So said famed management consultant and author, Peter Drucker.  Assuming we are measuring the right things, how do standard units of measure affect our perceptions of improvement?  As a youngish Manufacturing Manager, I lived in a world of standard units: pounds and kilograms, dozens and pecks, feet and inches, years, months and days. The units themselves created expectations. For example, lead-time, was typically expressed in “business days” apparently assuming that weekends represented a void.  In fact, for longer lead-time purchased parts, weeks were a more common unit.  For engineering projects, Gantt charts were expressed in months.  And business performance was tracked by quarters.  Each of these units, typically rounded up to the nearest whole number and crystalized by our ERP system, implied a cadence to which we operated. Weekly bucketing of factory orders, which preceded the advent of computers, continued as a unit for factory loading, inadvertently creating hills and valleys in the production schedule. Factory productivity was measured monthly.  We operated in an environment of self-inflicted unevenness.  Standard Units are Lean Peeve #9

As my organization began to study Lean, it became apparent that standard units for measuring time were limiting visibility and therefore our improvement.  Units of measure were effectively synonymous with frequency of measurement.   Daily huddles, for example, included discussion of problems that were already one-day old, but I viewed this response time as significantly better than previous, when huddles occurred only weekly.  

Then my company hooked up with TSSC, a division of Toyota that specializes in sharing TPS thinking with committed organizations.  One of my first assignments was to visit each product cell hourly to initial a Production Activity Log and immediately address any problems reported by the team lead.  I recall the words of my consultant at the time: “Bruce, you’re being very disrespectful of your employees by letting problems fester for hours.”    Based upon the amount of daily activity that had previously been reported in our daily huddles, I thought to myself “No big deal,” assuming the hourly follow-up would not be arduous.

That assumption turned out to be very wrong.  Problems were occurring from the starting bell to day’s end, and those that were unaddressed, often recurred multiple times during the day: missing parts, broken fixtures, defects, documentation questions.   These had been mostly invisible to me at the daily huddles because of brute force heroics and work arounds by the front line. And all of those previously invisible problems were baked into another standard unit we called our fixed lead-time.   Fixing these problems in something closer to real-time was exhausting, but also exhilarating.   The point is, it wasn’t just “what’s measured.”  It was also how often it’s measured that was important.   Accelerating the cadence of problem-solving created flow.   From there on, I began to measure in hours, minutes and seconds what had previously been measured with a calendar.  Time is a continuum, but the standard units that we use to chunk it up have a profound impact on how we measure. 

I’ve covered just one standard unit in this Lean Peeve, but there are hundreds!  How many can you think of?


Speaking of standard units, there is less than a week to GBMP’s annual conference.  Or should I say less than 120 hours until the 16th Annual Northeast Lean Conference gets under way.  Invest less than two-days of your time on October 7-8 and receive over 50,000 seconds of Lean sharing and inspiration for only $345.  That’s less than a penny a second!   In fact, we’re throwing in free use of LEANFLIX, GBMP’s award-winning streaming video content site, to all conference attendees.  Hope you can join us.